Privacy for Everyone

Remarks at the Pathways to Privacy Research Symposium organized by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

May 2, 2012
Ottawa, Ontario

Address by Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

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Good morning. It’s my great pleasure to welcome all of you to this symposium to showcase privacy-related research in Canada.

Our over-arching goals today are to both celebrate the creation and translation of knowledge and also to help make connections that will help that knowledge to continue to grow.

As a historian by training, I have always placed a tremendous value on knowledge – history has taught us how important it is to give space to unfettered thinking and critical reflection.

Knowledge is also crucial to my current role. Being Privacy Commissioner in an era when issues are evolving at an incredible pace means that it’s sometimes challenging to find time to pause for a breath – never mind deep reflection!

However, it is absolutely essential that we take time to fully understand, and reflect upon changes that impact on privacy, notably the implications of technologies that are advancing at an absolutely astonishing rate.

I sometimes like to point out that, when I became Commissioner in 2003, Facebook didn’t exist. Nor did Twitter … nor YouTube … nor Google Street View … nor Flickr.

And yet today all those services seem like the old-timers of the online world – there are so many other new players also taking up a huge place in our daily lives.

Knowledge is what enables us to keep up with all this change.

But how do we encourage knowledge and allow it to flourish, when there is so much change happening all at once?

I believe we can draw inspiration from the words of the 19th century women’s rights activist Margaret Fuller, who said: “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.”

Today, we want to light some candles.

We want to help to make connections and encourage dialogue between the people doing privacy research and those who are applying it.

We want to make more people aware of the research being done in the hopes that they can make good use of it – really run with it.

Ultimately, the goal is to connect the research to relevant end-users and encourage uptake of research results by people who can benefit from this research in very concrete ways.

Our theme today is Privacy for Everyone. We’ll be discussing funded projects on some of the emerging privacy issues that touch on specific groups such as youth; people with disabilities; First Nations; language minorities and immigrants.

Much of the research we’ll be discussing was funded through my Office’s Contributions Program, as well as by our partners at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Industry Canada.

If you’ll permit me to say so, I am very proud that the Contributions Program is regarded internationally as the foremost privacy research funding program in the world. As far as I know, it is the only program of its kind resting within a data protection authority.

Privacy is a crucial underpinning of every democratic society. I believe it’s appropriate to devote some resources to research which seeks to enhance the protection and promotion of privacy – especially at a time when this important human right faces so many risks.

Since its inception in 2004, the program has allocated approximately $3 million in funding to nearly 90 projects in Canada. I understand we have as many as 15 recipients of OPC Contributions Program funding with us here today.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” Benjamin Franklin once opined.

Indeed, a relatively small amount of money from my Office has gone a long way in building capacity and creating new knowledge.

Over the years, we have helped to support research touching on an incredibly diverse range of topics – from video surveillance to electronic health records to social networking. More recently, we have also begun to support public education initiatives through the program.

Today is about helping translate that knowledge and bringing it closer to interested stakeholders. Our role is in helping bridge the gap between those who produce cutting-edge privacy research, and those who may apply it in the field.

My Office remains very conscious of the need to take time for reflection, and research by other organizations and individuals often contributes significantly to our understanding of issues.

It’s important that the research we draw from includes Canadian perspectives. And, indeed, we are very fortunate that Canada is home to many of the world’s leading privacy researchers and innovators.

Through the Contributions Program, we help to support their exploration of what can often be extremely complex privacy issues.

The research we fund is conducted independently. The results of projects have helped to influence policy and, in some instances, have prompted debate – which is important for developing well-thought-out positions on issues.

We should not be scared of new ideas or of critical debates – we should embrace them and discover the interesting places where they may lead us.

Later today, my Office will be announcing the latest Contributions Program recipients.

In closing, I would also like to offer my thanks to both the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Industry Canada for their indispensible support in helping to organize this symposium. We look forward to future partnerships with them.

I am also very grateful to the many people have made the time to come and share their knowledge and their wisdom with us.

Thank you everyone for joining us for what promises to be a very interesting symposium. I’ll now turn things over to Patricia Kosseim, who will provide a strategic overview of the OPC Contribution Program.

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